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How to Write a Powerful Character Reference for Court in Melbourne and Victoria

If you are facing a criminal or traffic offence in Melbourne or Victoria, a well-written character reference letter could make a significant difference in the outcome of your sentencing. A character reference letter is a document that outlines your positive traits and personal history, written by someone who knows you well and can vouch for your character.

In this guide, we will provide you with essential information on how to write a powerful character reference for court in Melbourne and Victoria, which could help you receive a more lenient penalty. We will discuss why you need a character reference, who should write it, what to include in the letter, and how to structure it.

Why do you need a character reference?

While a character reference may not change the outcome of a Magistrates’ Court trial, it is likely to alter the severity or time of the sentence given. A well-prepared character reference letter from the right people can indicate to the Magistrate that you have taken responsibility for your actions, and that you have a good character.

In the case of Ryan v The Queen (2001), the court held that when imposing a sentence, the Magistrate or Judge must determine whether you are of good character, and if so, take this fact into account. Therefore, a well-written character reference can undoubtedly assist in achieving the best possible outcome.

Who should write the reference?

A character reference letter should be written by someone who knows you personally and can vouch for your character. This could be a long-term friend, colleague, employer, coach, religious leader, or someone you have volunteered with.

It’s crucial to note that an immediate family member should not write a reference, as the Magistrate could form the view that they would write anything for you. You can also write your letter expressing your remorse, depicting your true character, and describing any steps that you are taking towards rehabilitation. This is called a “Letter of Apology” and can persuade the Magistrate to deal with your sentencing more leniently.

What should be included in the character reference?

The character reference should include the nature and length of your relationship with the referee. The letter should also provide information about what you do for a living and any positive contributions you have made to the community. The referee should acknowledge the offense and its seriousness and provide examples of your good character. They should also express that the offense is out of character for you and that you are taking responsibility for your actions.

Additionally, the referee’s letter should include their concerns about the impact of a conviction or other penalty on you and your family’s life. Your lawyer can provide further advice on what a reference should contain in the context of your particular case and even review and make suggestions in relation to references prepared by those who are close to you.

How should the character reference be structured?

The letter should be typed and preferably on a letterhead. It should be addressed to “Your Honour” or “To the Presiding Magistrate/Judge.” The referee should sign and date the letter, and the original should be available to hand up to the court on the day of the sentence. The referee should use their own words and communicate their views without exaggeration or insincerity.

Is there anything specific that should be referred to in the reference?

Suppose there is a chance that a conviction or a loss of your driver’s license will result in a dismissal at work. You may wish to obtain a reference letter from your employer expressing this. It’s essential to ensure that the reference is accurate and truthful. Referees should not tell the Magistrate what to do or what to consider, and they should avoid embellishing or exaggerating the facts.

Will a character reference make a difference?

Courts are required to consider character references that contain matters relevant to the sentencing process. Section 21A(3) of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 outlines what are known as “mitigating factors,” which can lead to a more lenient penalty being imposed. These include having no previous criminal record or no significant record, being a person of good character, being unlikely to re-offend, having good prospects of rehabilitation, and pleading guilty to the offence.

Provided that information about such matters is contained in the reference letters, the court is required to consider them. Therefore, a well-written character reference could make a significant difference in the outcome of your sentencing.


In summary, a well-prepared character reference letter can help you get a more lenient penalty in criminal or traffic court. It’s essential to have the letter written by someone who knows you well and can vouch for your character. The letter should include specific information about your positive traits, personal history, and the impact of a conviction on your life.

When writing the character reference, it’s crucial to ensure that the information provided is accurate, truthful, and relevant to the sentencing process. Following the above tips, you can write a powerful character reference letter that may help you get the best possible outcome in your sentencing.

We hope this guide on how to write a powerful character reference for court in Melbourne and Victoria has been helpful to you. If you need any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Shane McClure, a highly experienced criminal lawyer and family lawyer in Melbourne and Victoria.

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